Van Cliburn

Cliburn confidential No. 13: Scipione Sangiovanni of Italy

Cliburn confidential

13 of 30

A series of conversations with the Cliburn competitors

Scipione Sangiovanni

(Pronounced Shee-pe-OH-nehy Sahn-jio-VAH-nee)

Nationality: Italian

Born: San Pietro Vernetico, Italy

Lives: Lecce, Italy

Age: 25

Early musical memory: “The first time I listened to music was when I was 3 or 4. My mother listened to a lot of Italian opera,” he says. “I didn’t love music immediately. I started to play the piano only because my mother wanted me to. The first five or six years I studied piano it was very difficult for me because I didn’t want to practice.”

What changed? “I met a teacher, an American named Kim Monica Wright,” he says. “She communicated to me her love of music. I started to love the music only because I met her.”

Favorite piano repertoire: “I prefer to play Bach. I like Handel and Scarlotti, in general all the music of the 18th century (from the Baroque period),” he says. “It’s very romantic music. I think Baroque is more romantic than the actual Romantic music. I try to underline the romantic aspects of Baroque music when I play it.”

Is he a romantic? “Yeah. I think you can see this,” he says. “It’s very difficult to say why, especially in English.”

Favorite pianists: “[Grigory] Sokolov and Krystian Zimerman, Sokolov for sure,” he says. “He is one of the best and plays Bach wonderfully. I like the fact that he always expresses his opinion about the music. When I listen to him, I feel that in every note he wants to express something. For me, this is the most important thing.”

Favorite music, other than classical: “I like rock music, Pink Floyd,” he says. “I also love some musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Phantom of the Opera.”

On a love of reading: “It’s impossible for me to go a day without reading a book,” he says. “Generally I like to read classics of international literature, Victor Hugo and Melville.”

Outside of playing the piano ... “I like to read and see movies,” he says. “I play at home in my garden. I really like to cook. It’s another way for me to relax between practice times.”

His hopes for the Cliburn: “Sometimes when a pianist performs in a very important situation, it is dangerous because the worst thing is to play with fear,” he says. “When I play, the most important thing is for me to feel free to express myself. I feel sad if I don’t feel free. When I play, I try every time to seek only the music, musical expression. That’s what I will try to do at the Cliburn.”

— Tim Madigan